When Gerwyn Price pinned tops to defeat Gary Anderson in last year’s Grand Slam finale, the Welshman’s triumph was met with unanimous hostility from the Wolverhampton crowd, with his win against ‘The Flying Scotsman’ marred by controversy.
Nevertheless, fast forward 12 months and Price was serenaded with chants of ‘Gerwyn Gerwyn Price’ at the very same venue after retaining his title in sensational style – The darting public were won round by Price’s brilliance in a potentially groundbreaking moment in the public’s perception of him.
Price’s development throughout the last 12 months has been nothing short of spectacular. His latest triumph sees him climb to a career high of third on the PDC Order of Merit, although there’s a strong argument that on current form, ‘The Iceman’ is the second best player on the planet.
Some critics claimed that his contentious success against Anderson was born primarily out of gamesmanship, although he certainly let his darts do the talking against Snakebite -averaging a staggering 107.86 and demonstrating that last year’s victory was no fluke.
Price’s defeat of ‘The Flying Scotsman’ in 2018 was a landmark win for several reasons. It marked his first televised title and saw him become the first Welshman to lift a major PDC title. Despite this, he’s been forced to deal with the consequences of that particular contest since.
The 34-year-old initially embraced the role of pantomime villain in the events that followed, although the hostility continued throughout this year’s Premier League, where the animosity regularly reached unprecedented heights.
He’s continued to receive relentless stick from the crowds, most notably at the European Championship and more recently the World Series Finals, where he was public enemy number one against home favourite Michael van Gerwen in Amsterdam.
Price referenced dealing with the baying crowds on the Darts Show podcast prior to his Grand Slam defence, admitting: “I didn’t think it would last for a full 12 months [hostility from the crowd] and I didn’t think people would be on my back week in, week out.
“I just thought it was a bit like the pantomime villain, a bit of fun. I don’t mind the boos when I’m walking on. I don’t mind boos during a game when you’re scoring because you’re in a rhythm, but for key stages when you’re on a double to win matches or legs, then you just need a little bit of respect.”
Price is no stranger to dealing with partisan atmospheres, particularly given his Rugby background. His mental fortitude is not up for debate, but he even contemplated adapting his game and tempering his celebrations in a bid to diffuse the boo boys.
The former World Cup finalist has been prolific on the floor in 2019 in a more subdued environment, but adrenaline is a fundamental part of Price’s big-stage complexion and to remove that from his game when his peers behave in similarly animated fashion appears unjust.
The new world No 3 will always be a character that polarises opinion, but even the most vociferous Price critics must have a begrudging respect for his scintillating performances throughout the last nine days in Wolverhampton.
He kicked off his campaign against reigning women’s world champion Mikuru Suzuki and survived a scare to run out a 5-3 winner, although the respect and humility he showed towards the Japanese sensation showed real class and contradicts the abrasive reputation that precedes him.
Wins over former finalist Robert Thornton and World Youth champion Dimitri Van den Bergh saw him seal top spot in Group C and he breezed into the last eight with a crushing 10-1 win over Darren Webster.
He faced a highly anticipated rematch against Anderson in the quarter-finals and much of the pre-match discussion centred around last year’s fireworks. Despite this, the biggest talking point that emerged was the manner in which Price’s game has evolved since that darting dust-up.
Anderson was overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers last year although Price was touted as the man to beat this time around. Admittedly Anderson’s injury lay-off contributed to such a significant fluctuation in the odds, but the Welshman romped home 16-9, despite playing well below his best.
This win was testament to how he’s developed a ‘B-game’ that can still challenge the world’s best, but a semi-final showdown against top seed Van Gerwen provided a completely different test of character.
The 34-year-old’s record against the Dutchman was wretched. He had failed to beat MVG in 19 previous meetings- registering a solitary draw in this year’s Premier League. Their last five tussles had gone to deciding legs, yet ultimately he’d been unable to cross the finishing line.
Therefore, the prospect of defeating an irrepressible Van Gerwen – boasting a tournament average in excess of 102 – in an elongated best of 31 legs format appeared a near impossible task.
Price had other ideas however. He roared into a 4-1 lead and despite ‘The Green Machine’ averaging 108 for large periods, he kept the world No 1 at bay and produced a series of clutch combination finishes to complete a 16-12 win and finally dethrone Van Gerwen at the 20th attempt.
You felt this was a seismic moment for Price irrespective of the outcome in the final. The self-belief this would give the Welshman could not be underestimated, although so often we’ve seen a player defeat the likes of Phil Taylor and Van Gerwen before failing to back it up in subsequent matches.
‘The Iceman’ is a different proposition though. He appeared poised to post a record average in a televised final against a shell-shocked Snakebite – averaging 113.62 after 15 legs. That dipped slightly in the closing stages, but it didn’t overshadow a champion’s performance from start to finish.
He couldn’t have asked for a tougher route – defeating the decorated trio of Anderson, Van Gerwen and Wright to scoop the title. He displayed different attributes in all three tussles – tenacity against Anderson, composure in abundance against MVG and sheer brilliance against Wright.
In his post-match interview after beating Anderson 12 months ago, he declared: “I’m loving it playing on that stage against the best players in the world. Five-six years ago I was a rugby player, and now I’m pinching money from the professionals’ pockets.”
There was a very different demeanour surrounding Price on this occasion. He lifted the Eric Bristow Trophy aloft to a chorus of furious boos 12 months ago, although the jeers turned to cheers on Sunday night, as the excellent Wolverhampton crowd rose to acclaim a quality display from a world class operator.
The Welshman was joined on stage by his two young daughters in heart-warming post-match scenes and his visible emotion spoke volumes. To declare this as redemption following last year’s controversy would perhaps be doing him a disservice, but it was certainly vindication.
Price quipped that he was ‘picking the pockets’ of the world’s best last year, but he unquestionably belongs in that category now. It’s astonishing to think that he’s only in his sixth year as a professional – Rob Cross’ remarkable rise is rightfully celebrated, but Price’s should not be dismissed.
The Grand Slam champ is only the seventh man in PDC history to retain a major TV title and he could ironically overhaul Cross as world No 2 following this year’s World Championship. He’ll head to the annual Ally Pally pilgrimage with huge belief, where more success may be just around the corner.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC